Taliban militants attacked key buildings near Afghanistan's presidential palace and the American CIA headquarters in Kabul - a brazen assault that could derail attempts for peace talks to end 12 years of war.
The Taliban, who have said they are willing to take part in talks with the United States and Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration, said they launched the early morning assault, which triggered a 90-minute firefight.
Three security guards were killed and another injured in an hour-long gun battle between police and the militants, the Afghan Interior Ministry said. All five Taliban guerillas who took part in the strike were shot dead, it said.
The insurgents got past government checkpoints into the centre of Kabul using fake uniforms and ID cards for their vehicles, said city police chief Ayub Salangi. They threw grenades at the presidential palace, the defence ministry and foreign military bases, he said.
The attack began soon after 6.30am when at least one man opened fire with an automatic rifle close to a gate to the palace in central Shash Darak district. Reporters at the palace gates for security checks took cover when the firing started.
The area is home to the presidential palace compound, the Ministry of Defence and an annex of the US embassy at the old Ariana Hotel. The Central Intelligence Agency's Afghanistan station is based there.
All roads to the palace were closed off, with multiple rings of heavy security around the complex keeping people far away.
Karzai, who lives in the palace, was later due to hold a media conference. Officials confirmed that he was in the building at the time of the attack but was in no danger.
Afghan forces and US servicemen returned fire and explosions resounded through the area. Children walking to school were caught in the shooting, but escaped serious injury.
A thick plume of smoke was seen rising from the Ariana at the height of the exchanges.
US officials have been trying to revive peace talks in Qatar, which were thrown off course after rows last week over the opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state.
The US envoy appointed to help Kabul pursue peace with the Taliban, James Dobbins, arrived in Kabul on Monday and met Karzai and the Afghan body intended to negotiate with the insurgents.
He said that Washington was trying to determine if the Taliban were willing to engage in talks.
Afghan security officials said they believed the attack was carried out by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.
The Haqqani network is accused of masterminding high-profile attacks in Kabul and is believed to have close links to al-Qaeda.
Adela Raz, a spokeswoman for Karzai, dismissed a suggestion that the palace had been under threat, saying any shooting had taken place far from the compound's walls.
The defence ministry said the assault had been aimed at the Ariana.
Reuters, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse